Nova Scotia’s government observed the National Day of Mourning in Halifax on Saturday at Province House.
Dozens attended the event meant to commemorate people who have died, been injured, or developed an illness while working, or due to their jobs.
“I can still remember looking at the doctor thinking, ‘How can you expect me to sign a piece of paper saying it’s OK to let my dad die?'” Shannon Kempton recounted in front of a crowd at the event.
Her father died due to a workplace injury a few years ago.
Kempton said she finds it difficult to retell that story, but she is motivated to promote workplace safety and warn others about the risks.
“I hope that people go away knowing that they have a right to say no, and that if one person gets it, then I feel like something good has come from the tragedy our family’s faced,” she told reporters.
“For those families, they don’t move on, it’s something they live with every single day for the rest of their life.”
Workplace fatalities by the numbers
Workplaces fatalities in Nova Scotia are delineated by acute fatalities and the chronic kind. Acute fatalities encompass drownings, falls, etc. Chronic fatalities include cardiac arrest, occupational disease, etc.
Between 2011 and 2017, the highest number of workplace deaths occurred in 2013 with 17 deaths, according to statistics from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) of Nova Scotia.
The highest number of chronic deaths in that time frame occurred in 2012 with 22 deaths.
Factoring both kinds of deaths, 2013 had the highest number with 34 deaths.
In 2017, there was a combined total of 21 deaths.
“Twenty-one flags placed outside to represent each of those individuals. These losses have changed the lives those affected forever,” an emotional Labi Kousoulis, minister of Labour and Advanced Education, said at the event, describing the nearby decorations.
Push continues to reduce the numbers
In an interview following the event, the minister said he had a personal connection to the topic of the event, but he declined to delve into it.
“We have to do better. Even one workplace death is one too many. The goal for everybody, government, for society, should be none, and that includes accidents,” Kousoulis said.
Part of getting to that desired zero number requires education and awareness, he said.
Stuart MacLean, CEO of WCB, echoed the same sentiment.
“My message for workers is: Only do something if you can do it safely. My message for employers is: We need to move from knowing about it to caring about it, and create those safe work environments so that workers know that they can come to work and go home to their families at the end of the day,” he said.
There have been successes, including in the fishing industry with personal flotation devices and other safety equipment being embraced to help prevent injuries and deaths.
According to WCB data, there were 2.9 time-loss claims made per 100 covered workers.
In 2017, that number dropped to 1.76.
MacLean said that, per year, 10 per cent of home-care workers have to take time off from work due to injuries.
“That’s something that we need to change,” he said, adding that his organization is working with workers’ union, among other partners, to work on solutions.
Event featured speakers from multiple organizations
Representatives from several other organizations attended at the event.
Dartmouth East MLA Tim Halman, a former teacher, said in a speech that he would emphasize, among other things, the right to refuse doing unsafe work to his students on co-op placements.
“Unfortunately, some of my students would return to the classroom and often indicate to me that the culture of the workplace in which they were in wasn’t always reflective of the regulations, policies and laws that we have in our province and throughout Canada,” he said.
Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, also spoke at the event.
“This is exactly the moment to say that in every line of work, safety is of greater value than production, and that anyone who does not understand this should be removed from any position of responsibility over the working lives of other people. This is exactly the moment,” he said as he was cut off by claps from the audience.